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BOOKS Lesbian co-author discusses 'No More Police: A Case for Abolition'
by Angelique Smith
2022-10-18

This article shared 1200 times since Tue Oct 18, 2022
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"We don't need all the answers to start down the road toward where we want to go: a world where everyone has safety, food, clean water, shelter, education, health, art, beauty, and rest."—No More Police: A Case for Abolition.

No More Police is a lot of things—a foundational guide that's not afraid to ask questions, a resource hub, a narrative changer, an exploration of the long legacy of abolition. But, most of all, it is a compelling call to action that takes the most frequently asked questions and tensions around abolition and breaks them down.

Written by nationally recognized policing and criminalization expert Andrea J. Ritchie and best-selling author Mariame Kaba, the book flowed from their work as co-founders of Interrupting Criminalization ( www.interruptingcriminalization.com/ ), an initiative created to fight the over-criminalization of women, girls, trans individuals and gender nonconforming people of color.

Windy City Times spoke with Ritchie, a Black lesbian and former Chicago resident who is also a survivor of state and personal violence.

Windy City Times: What led you to create this book with co-author Mariame Kaba?

Andrea J. Ritchie: In 2020, the demands to defund the police were gaining traction following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. There was also a lot of confusion being sown by politicians and policymakers around what the demand really was, "Well, they don't really mean completely cut the whole budget! They just mean that if everyone else's budget is being cut, then we should also cut the police budget."

WCT: There still seems to be confusion.

AJR: There's been this effort to manage the demand and repackage it, so Mariame wrote a piece for the New York Times ( www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/opinion/sunday/floyd-abolish-defund-police.html ) that said, "Yes, we really do want to abolish the police."

WCT: What does abolition look like through a Black, queer and trans feminist lens?

AJR: For me, it's a world where Black women, queer and trans people have everything they need to survive and thrive without policing, surveillance, punishment, or exile in any form. When we think about people who are living at the intersections of multiple structures of oppression, the premise of Black feminism will produce increased safety for everyone.

WCT: Right.

AJR: I also want to lift up another Black feminist, Erin Miles Cloud, who said it in a way that continues to capture it for me: "Everyone cares about someone's safety somewhere some of the time. Abolitionists care about everyone's safety everywhere all of the time."

WCT: And what does that mean to you?

AJR: That means we care about Black trans women's safety when Black trans women are facing some of the highest levels of violence in the country. That means we care about Black women's safety when Black women are experiencing the highest levels of every kind of violence: economic, medical, certainly community violence and, by some measures, police violence.

WCT: The book talks about how the current notion of public safety depends on sexual and gendered order; how that regulation is a way of enforcing a white, middle class, heteronormative, ableist standard of living as a condition of social acceptance.

AJR: It's so apparent in this moment where there are attacks on trans young people accessing gender-affirming care, space to play sports, to use the bathroom or locker room. Attacks on books that reference the existence of queer and trans people, queer story hours in libraries. There's this notion that gender nonconformity is in of itself a threat to public safety, such that the very presence and existence of trans and gender non-conforming youth is criminalized.

WCT: Tell us how that ties into defunding the police?

AJR: [Queer liberation] is not possible as long as we have policing, surveillance, and punishment, because it is being deployed to police the borders of the gender binary and the borders around what's deemed normative or acceptable ways of loving, being and experiencing pleasure.

WCT: Can you talk about crime as a construct?

AJR: So many of us normalize the notion of crime. We might disagree with certain things being criminalized like weed or public sex, right? We might disagree with the way things are criminalized in discriminatory ways like Black folks being stopped more for traffic offenses. But we don't often question the premise that the state gets to decide which conduct — by who, when, and how — will be punished.

WCT: And that it's often arbitrary—or worse, not.

AJR: We tend to think, well maybe not drugs, maybe not things that are criminalized that are connected to poverty, but surely something like murder. Murder should absolutely be a crime. Well, it's not now for everybody, right? If the president sends a drone over to Yemen and murders hundreds of people, that's not even considered anything but an act of patriotism and a "natural" thing that presidents do.

WCT: Right.

AJR: There's no concept that that's a crime. Cops kill people every day and it's not criminalized. Some people are allowed to act in self-defense and it's not criminalized, but when survivors who experience tremendous amounts of violence defend themselves when no one else will or despite multiple calls for help…

WCT: Then that gets criminalized.

AJR: We have to look at all the things that the state is regulating and punishing and recognize that it's not just about whether there're criminal laws and how they're enforced; it's actually a process of criminalizing groups of people. And then, you can use any law to do it.

WCT: What is one perpetual myth about policing that needs to be put to rest?

AJR: The notion that public safety can be achieved through policing. It just cannot. If it were true, as a country that pours hundreds of billions into policing every year, we would not be experiencing the rates of violence and harm that we do experience. It loots resources from the things that we do actually need to be safe. Forty percent of Chicago's budget goes to cops and that's why we don't have housing we need for unhoused neighbors or support for people with unmet mental health needs, etc.

WCT: If you go by recent media reports, particularly when it comes to Chicago, it would seem that we're in a crime wave.

AJR: What gets reported as crime is more about the political interests it serves than any kind of measure of actual violence or harm. Many things that are violent and harmful are not criminalized, like environmental destruction, wage theft, taking pandemic relief funds and giving them to police instead of to people who need them.

WCT: Thinking about the water in Flint or asset-forfeiture abuse.

AJR: [If] I smoke a blunt on the sidewalk it's not harming anyone in that moment, but in many places that would be criminalized. Things that are framed as nuisances or disorderly, like sitting on a sidewalk when you have nowhere else to sit, etc. Crime stats really aren't an accurate measure of harm and violence, they're a measure of what the state is focusing its energy on through punishing people.

WCT: Again, crime as a construct.

AJR: Crime stats are controlled by cops; the people who produce [the stats] have an interest in what they say, right? And cops have been shown to manipulate them up and down based on whatever their interest is: they want to show that they're doing a good job then they're going to clear a bunch of cases or charge them as lower offenses to make it look like crime is down. If feeling threatened — and they have definitely experienced this sort of deep challenge to their legitimacy in the last couple of years — they're going to come up with numbers that make it look like any challenge to their legitimacy is potentially deadly for all of us.

WCT: With no checks and balances.

AJR: No one checks them. They say homicides are up, are we asking the coroners if that's actually true? Are we asking what even counts as a homicide, which depends on the cops themselves and whether they charge it as a homicide or an accidental death? It also depends on the conditions under which you live. When Chicago didn't have a trauma center on the South side, many things became homicides because it took an hour to get to a trauma center. There're so many factors at play that don't get considered.

WCT: The complexities are rarely mentioned.

AJR: I don't want to deny that there's deadly violence in Chicago, especially not to the families and people who've been affected by violence. We certainly need to look at it, I just don't know that we need to look at it through the eyes of the police and the state who would just as quickly criminalize certain people, lock them up and throw away the key.

WCT: We have a collective carceral mindset.

AJR: We need to look at the violence through the perspective of what would actually prevent this from happening and there's so much evidence that just giving people the things they need to survive reduces violence. One of the ways to change those conditions is making sure people have what they need: housing, income, making sure people have access to ways of being part of their community, making sure people have education that's enlivening, nourishing and creates a sense of possibility.

Purchase No More Police: A Case for Abolition through The New Press at thenewpress.com/books/no-more-police .


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